Author Archives: sjhigbee

About sjhigbee

Science fiction/fantasy writer & creative writing tutor and book addict. I can't walk past a book shop or library and am considering therapy.

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Life #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonLife #PickyEaters

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Keeping a mountain between yourself and a roaming ice giant ISN’T hiding – it’s protecting the wretch from the heat of your flame…

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Transylvania Twist – Book 2 of The Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheTransylvaniaTwistbookreview

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The sharp-eyed among you will have realised that I’ve posted (and read) Books 2 and 3 of this series the wrong way around – see my reviews of The Monster MASH and Werewolves of London. I had sufficient fun with Petra Robichaud that when I discovered this offering on Netgalley, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved to read it. But would reading them out of order negatively impact my experience?

BLURB: Even during a truce, I have my hands full as a MASH surgeon to an army of warring gods—especially when Medusa herself turns up pregnant. I frankly have no idea what to expect when a Gorgon’s expecting, but I have an even bigger problem when my presumed-dead former-fiancé sneaks into my tent with enough emotional baggage to fill a tank. He’s been fighting for the other side, which technically makes him my enemy, and now he needs me and the power I’ve kept secret for so long: I can see the dead. It’s a blessing and a curse. Literally. Because the gods will smite me in a second if they suspect.

But the other side is developing a terrible new weapon, and the only person who can stop the carnage was just murdered in a covert lab behind enemy lines. So I have no choice but to pull on my combat boots and go AWOL with my ex and a moody berserker to confront a ghost with a terrible secret.

REVIEW: I have to say – I’m quite glad that I read these books out of order, because I’m not sure I would have continued with the series if I hadn’t. It isn’t that this one is badly written, or lacking in tension – in fact, this particular storyline is probably the strongest of all the books. But the hard fact of the never-ending war, even with a truce, is grittily portrayed in this one. And while there are splashes of humour – I love the plotline where Medusa is pregnant and Petra is in charge of her ante-natal care – this time around, I was far more aware of the darker underbelly of this story.

There is also a love triangle. Generally, I’m not a huge fan of this dynamic, as it mostly manages to make the protagonist look like a shallow-minded flirt for not being able to make up her mind between the two men cluttering up her life. However in this case, Petra gets a pass. Her relationship with a super-soldier, now suddenly no longer immortal, comes to an abrupt end as he is called back to the front with little or no prospect of their meeting up again. And then her former fiancé, who she believed was dead – makes a sudden appearance… As I once knew someone whose parents had gone through this harrowing scenario at the end of WWII, I’m quite happy for this plotline to unfurl. But while there are funny moments – it is also quite an emotional read, which isn’t a bad thing but I was looking for something a bit fluffier.

That said, I really like Petra and her bouncy look on life, while the world is vividly described. The action scenes work well with plenty of tension and drama and I blew through this one in a couple of sittings, still held by the story, even though I already knew the ultimate outcome – which is a strong testament to Fox’s writing. Highly recommended for fantasy fans who like something quirky, with plenty of light-hearted moments. While I obtained an arc of The Transylvania Twist from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Don’t care how old I am – I still love cartoons… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffcartooncovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with CARTOON images. I’ve selected Sourcery – Book 5 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.

Harper, April 2008

This edition was produced by Harper in April 2008, and while I think many of the cover designs they came up with for the Discworld novels are underwhelming – I actually like this one. It has the playfulness and slight sense of mayhem that should always feature on Discworld cover. But whoever thought it was then a good idea to slap a round red label across the design needs to be frogmarched to an optician for an eye test. It wrecks the balance of the whole cover, because of the way it pulls your attention across to it. Grrr!

Corgi, July 1989

Published in July 1989 by Corgi, very unusually, this original cover design isn’t my favourite. I normally love Josh Kirby’s covers, but I’m not a fan of his depiction of Conina in this one. A bit too much bosom and hips – and yes, I’m aware that it is probably a swipe at the tendency for fantasy heroines to be over-endowed and under-dressed on book covers. But given that Pratchett’s writing doesn’t ever cross a line into any sexiness, I think it is sending the wrong message about the book.

Gollancz, February 2014

This edition, published by Gollancz in February 2014, is part of a re-release of the series for collectors. Apparently. Why anyone would want to clutter up their bookshelves with a book so brimful of life and colourful characters encased in such a miserably monochrome effort is beyond me. But that’s because I loathe this cover.

New American Library, 1989

This edition, produced by the New American Library in 1989 is more like it! There is the Librarian and Rincewind both looking suitably befuddled at the exodus of various creatures from the Unseen University. The flavour of the book is nicely caught and the artwork is well done and eye-catching. And not a nasty sticker in sight😊. This one is so very nearly my favourite…

French edition, November 2010

This French edition, published by Pocket in November 2010, nails it as far as I’m concerned. I love that awesome explosion and the wonderful image of a wizard flying across the cover in mid-air. I have to say, that next to the originals which will always have a place in my heart as we own most of them, it’s the Pocket covers that I think manage to get the sense of barely contained chaos that tends to run through all the Discworld books. And they achieve this while still producing a visually appealing effort, which is a huge achievement, given what a tricky task that is. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Best Thing You Can Steal by Simon R. Green #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheBestThingYouCanStealbookreview

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Anyone who has spent much time visiting this blog will know that I enjoy Green’s writing – see my reviews of The Dark Side of the Road, Very Important Corpses, Death Shall Come, Into the Thinnest of Air, Murder in the Dark, Till Sudden Death Do Us Part, Night Train to Murder, The House on Widow’s Hill and The Man With the Golden Torc. So when I saw there was a new series by Green, I immediately jumped at the chance to snaffle a copy of this one.

BLURB: Gideon Sable is a thief and a con man. He specializes in stealing the kind of things that can’t normally be stolen. Like a ghost’s clothes, or a photo from a country that never existed. He even stole his current identity. Who was he originally? Now, that would be telling. One thing’s for sure though, he’s not the bad guy. The people he steals from always have it coming. Gideon’s planning a heist, to steal the only thing that matters from the worst man in the world. To get past his security, he’s going to need a crew who can do the impossible . . . but luckily, he has the right people in mind. The Damned, the Ghost, the Wild Card . . . and his ex-girlfriend, Annie Anybody. A woman who can be anyone, with the power to make technology fall in love with her. If things go well, they’ll all get what they want. And if they’re lucky, they might not even die trying . . .

REVIEW: I’m not generally a huge fan of fantasy heist adventures. It takes serious writing chops to successfully build up the tension within an ensemble crew and make me go on caring, given that I don’t innately sympathise with anti-heroes. But if anyone was going to be able to pull me into such a story, then I knew it would be Green, which his pacey writing, strong characters and tongue-in-cheek humour that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

My instincts were right. This was just what I needed. Gideon is a likeable rogue who is trying to pull down a satisfyingly nasty antagonist by hitting him where it hurts most – by raiding his vault and snatching his most valued possession. In amongst the planning and scheming, there are some lovely touches of gothic horror that had me teetering between shock and laughter. Though there are also some scenes which are more about the seedy side of London and the sheer nastiness of our enemy.

Green has the pacing absolutely nailed. Once we got to a certain stage of the story, there was no way I was putting this one down until I discovered what happens next. And so I very much appreciated the plot twists that Green threw in near the end that suddenly changed the whole dynamic of what is going on. It was very well done – a sudden shift in the narrative like this could have felt like a cheat in less accomplished hands. The story was wrapped up entirely satisfactorily and I’m hoping that this is the first in a new series. Recommended for fans of fantasy heist adventures. While I obtained an arc of The Best Thing You Can Steal from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 7th April, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk – release date 15th April, 2021

#historical fantasy #romance

BLURB: Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar to cut off her powers. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged mage, but her family are in severe debt, and only her marriage can save them.

Beatrice finds a grimoire with the key to becoming a mage, but a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with the sorceress’s brother: the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.

I recently read Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal and was looking around for something else similar. And when I came across this Netgalley arc, I was delighted to be approved for it. I love that cover for starters – and when I read the blurb, I was sold. I’m aware that it’s already been released in the States, but am looking forward to tucking into it. Has anyone else read this one?

Tuesday Treasures – 31 #Brainfluffbookblog #LightintheLockdown

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This week on Tuesday Treasures, I’m winding back to the beginning of March, which seems like a very long time ago. We went for a walk along Littlehampton Beach just a few days before we both became ill with Covid 19.

It was a lovely sunny day although there was a wind blowing and the sea was a little rough. I have also taken some views through the bench – apparently it’s the longest bench in the world and it runs the length of the seafront and in a couple of places, the designers have snarled it all up to make it longer. Though it wasn’t the top of the tide, the River Arun was higher than usual because we’d had a lot of rain the previous week. And as you can see, they were still busy dredging the mouth of the river for the large gravel boats that work out of Littlehampton Harbour. Stay safe.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne – Book 1 of The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne series by Jonathan Stroud #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheOutlawsScarlett&Brownebookreview

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Anyone who is a regular visitor knows I’m a huge fan of Stroud’s writing – see my review of The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book in the fabulous Bartimaeus trilogy, and my reviews of The Screaming Staircase, The Whispering Skull, and The Empty Grave. And yes… I know that Stroud’s writing is aimed at children and the YA market – but he’s one of those wonderfully talented writers who is simply too good to leave just to the youngsters. And I, for one, have never found that his writing ever to be anything other than clever, nuanced and demanding.

BLURB: Set in a fragmented future England, The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne introduces us to a world where gunfights and monsters collide, and where the formidable outlaw Scarlett McCain fights daily against the odds. When she discovers a wrecked coach on a lonely road, there is only one survivor – the seemingly hapless youth, Albert Browne. Against her instincts, Scarlett agrees to escort him to safety. This is a mistake. Soon, new and implacable enemies are on her heels. As a relentless pursuit continues across the broken landscape of England, Scarlett must fight to uncover the secrets of Albert’s past – and come to terms with the implications of her own.

REVIEW: It was interesting to read this one so soon after I’ve completed The Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey, because the setting is very similar. A hostile post-apocalyptic England, where there are all sorts of wild beasts and cannibalistic tribes roaming around looking for an easy snack. Civilised settlements are small oases where food, clothing and supplies can be found, along with law and order and safety. But Scarlett doesn’t make a habit of spending much time in one of the settled towns – other than to rob the bank. She doesn’t like the Faith House network, which is constantly looking for people who have deviated from the physical and mental norms (think of John Wynham’s The Chrysalids). She is not afraid of a fight, being an excellent shot and very good in a scrap – she wouldn’t have survived in the wilds, otherwise.

By contrast, Arthur Brown is a walking disaster. He has no instinct whatsoever for keeping himself safe and is liable to fall over his own feet, or get distracted by some pretty-looking seed pods or butterflies, rather than pay attention to the business of keeping himself alive. When chance brings these two together, Scarlett’s one instinct is to offload such a liability as fast as she possibly can – and the growing relationship between them was beautifully handled. It could have so easily puddled into sentimentality or lurve – and it does neither of those things.

Along the way, all sorts of adventures happen to this unlikely duo which steadily reveals more and more of this fascinating, blighted world. I highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoyed Carey’s Rampart trilogy. It’s sufficiently different to be enjoyable in its own right – and certainly provides an interesting backdrop to two fascinating, complicated characters and I can’t wait to see where Stroud will next take this adventure. While I obtained an arc of The Outlaws Scarlett & Brown from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Sunday Post – 4th April, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

If you are celebrating, Happy Easter!

I’ve been away for a while, because Himself and I went down with Covid just after my last Sunday Post and we were both very poorly. Himself narrowly escaped being admitted to hospital due to his breathlessness and I was coping with aching joints and slept more or less round the clock. Thank goodness we are now on the road to recovery, though I’m still struggling with my energy levels and Himself has been left with a nasty cough.

We are part of a study whereby we take a Covid test every month. On Thursday, the monthly event rolled around again – and this time, they also asked us for a blood sample. They want around 5 ml and the catch is that we have to administer the procedure ourselves. It was a hoot stabbing my finger and squeezing the blood out, then encouraging it to drop into the little phial. By the time we got the hang of it, the first little cut had clotted and both of us had to start again with another finger! By the time we’d finished the whole procedure, we were giggling hysterically. Hopefully by next month, we’ll get the hang of it with only one stabbed finger…

I have no photos this week, as sadly, I haven’t yet made it outdoors since I was ill. Maybe next week…

Last week I read:
To Fire Called – Book 8 of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series by Nathan Lowell

Captain Ishmael Wang finally gets the Chernyakova out of the yard and embarks on a voyage into the Toe-Holds where the Confederated Planets Joint Committee on Trade has no authority. Where the law is whatever you say it is as long as you can enforce it. Where he learns that some will do anything to hide their secrets and everybody has a secret.
This is a space opera series that I tore into while we were ill, which is highly readable and provided escapism without too much darkness or gore. As you see, I found it difficult to leave it alone… Mini-review to follow.

The Invitation by A.M. Castle
Thirteen guests. One killer. No escape. On an island on the coast of Cornwall, cut off from the mainland by the tides for most of the day, thirteen old friends meet at Tregowan Castle for a weekend of revelry. By the next evening only twelve are still alive.

Amongst them is a killer – but who? As a storm traps them on the island and past betrayals and grievances are revealed, nerves fray and friendships begin to fracture.

But with no escape and no way of calling for help it’s only a matter of time before the killer strikes again. And when everyone is keeping secrets, anybody could be the next victim…
I thoroughly enjoyed this locked room murder mystery set on a fictionalised version of St Michal’s Mount. There was plenty of dramatic tension and the denouement was well done – I’ll be reading other books by this accomplished author.

AUDIOBOOK The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
Four septuagenarians with a few tricks up their sleeves
A female cop with her first big case
A brutal murder
Welcome to…
The Thursday Murder Club

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet weekly in the Jigsaw Room to discuss unsolved crimes; together they call themselves The Thursday Murder Club. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

When a local developer is found dead with a mysterious photograph left next to the body, the Thursday Murder Club suddenly find themselves in the middle of their first live case. As the bodies begin to pile up, can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer, before it’s too late?
While this one took a while to get going, I ended up really enjoying this murder mystery featuring four elderly protagonists. Kudos to Osman for not patronising them in any way, providing plenty of food for thought and some poignant moments, along with the crimes and a mostly thoroughly likeable cast of characters. Review to follow.

The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne – Book 1 of The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne series by Jonathan Stroud
Set in a fragmented future England, The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne introduces us to a world where gunfights and monsters collide, and where the formidable outlaw Scarlett McCain fights daily against the odds. When she discovers a wrecked coach on a lonely road, there is only one survivor – the seemingly hapless youth, Albert Browne. Against her instincts, Scarlett agrees to escort him to safety.

This is a mistake. Soon, new and implacable enemies are on her heels. As a relentless pursuit continues across the broken landscape of England, Scarlett must fight to uncover the secrets of Albert’s past – and come to terms with the implications of her own.
This YA offering set in post-apocalyptic England is a rip-roaring adventure full of drama, with some shafts of humour and lots of tension. I inhaled this one, loved it and am now very much looking forward to the next one. Review to follow.

By Darkness Forged – Book 9 of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series by Nathan Lowell
Profits. Coffee. Extortion.
All in a day’s work.

When Ishmael takes the Chernyakova back into Toe-Hold space, he finds a lot more than profit. A quick pass through the Telluride system reveals the answer to one question but leaves him docked without a cargo until the owner of Dark Knight Station makes him an offer he can’t refuse.
I’m not sure – but this book has a real feel of the final book of the series. While Lowell doesn’t generally go in for foot-to-the-floor action, this time around there was plenty of tension and danger, which worked really well. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Invitation by A.M. Castle

Friday Face-off featuring Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Fall of Koli – Book 3 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Best Thing You Can Steal – a Gideon Sable novel by Simon R. Green

Tuesday Treasures – 30

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

April is Autism Acceptance Month, April 2nd is Autism Awareness Day https://carlalovestoread.wordpress.com/2021/04/02/april-is-autism-awareness-month-april-2-is-autism-acceptance-day/ Carla’s excellent article provides valuable information about this issue. And given that in our daily lives, we are bound to encounter both adults and children on the autism spectrum, it is worth reading.

#WriterProblems: #StoryEndings and #LooseEnds (Also, a Defense of #EarwigandtheWitch)
https://jeanleesworld.com/2021/04/01/writerproblems-storyendings-and-looseends-also-a-defense-of-earwigandthewitch/ Jean Lee once more provides us with excellent writing advice, in one of her wonderful, quirky articles. It was lovely reading this after have been away so long…

Author Interview: Ilona Andrews https://lynns-books.com/2021/03/22/author-interview-ilona-andrews/ I am a huge fan of the Innkeeper Chronicles and have always been fascinated to discover how this husband and wife writing team work together. So this was a solid treat – especially as the questions and answers are excellent…

Book Buying Habits Tag https://spaceandsorcery.wordpress.com/2021/03/30/book-buying-habits-tag/ Maddalena has once again provided one of her lovely book tags. I’m always intrigued to find out how other book addicts manage their habit, so this was a must-read for me…

Top Ten Tuesday – Books Set in Places I’d Love to Live https://thebookishlibra.com/2021/03/30/top-ten-tuesday-books-set-in-places-id-love-to-live/ Now that we’re all stuck in one place, especially as Himself and I have been self-isolating for a chunk of March, I find myself increasingly dreaming of other places with longing – and books are a great way to escape. So I really enjoyed this article…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, healthy week – and do take care. x

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Caring for Grandchildren #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonGrandchildren #PickyEaters

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Treats and bribes work better than flame and blame when enforcing discipline – after all, you’ll be handing them back at the end of the day…

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Invitation by A.M. Castle #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheInvitationbookreview

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From time to time, I like to leaven my diet of SFF reads with a murder mystery. However, I don’t like anything too grim or gory, so when I read the blurb for this one, it really caught my attention. Especially as I also have a really soft spot for the beautiful county of Cornwall.

BLURB: Thirteen guests. One killer. No escape.

On an island on the coast of Cornwall, cut off from the mainland by the tides for most of the day, thirteen old friends meet at Tregowan Castle for a weekend of revelry. By the next evening only twelve are still alive. Amongst them is a killer – but who? As a storm traps them on the island and past betrayals and grievances are revealed, nerves fray and friendships begin to fracture.

But with no escape and no way of calling for help it’s only a matter of time before the killer strikes again. And when everyone is keeping secrets, anybody could be the next victim…

REVIEW: This one is told from the viewpoint of most of the adults who end up at the fateful Halloween party. It is a classic locked-room mystery, where everyone is trapped in the castle on a small island (think of a fictionalised version of St Michael’s Mount) that is only easily accessible when the tide is low and the weather is fine. Which isn’t the case right now, as (wouldn’t you know it?) there is a massive storm raging, add to the general sense of panic and unease.

Castle does a really good job of giving us an insight into the disparate group of people, who were firm friends back when they were at university together. But a lot happened when they were younger and a lot more reckless – things that have had long-term consequences. And their glamorous and mega-rich hostess has managed to winkle most of the secrets out of each of them, over the years. And during this Halloween party – which is a classier version of the fateful bash she’d thrown at university and changed everything – she is determined to ‘clear the air’ by revealing the secrets that she believes are slowly poisoning their lives and ruining their relationships. Or maybe, she just enjoys the sense of power she gets when throwing everyone’s lives into turmoil… As ever, when you read a multiple viewpoint book, you take your pick of the versions offered up to you.

Writing multiple viewpoints, so that everyone pings off the page sounding and feeling quite different, is a tall order and it takes experience and skill to successfully pull it off. Evidently Castle possesses plenty of both, because I got to the stage where I only had to read the opening sentence to know whose head I was in. The constant ongoing stream of revelations that added yet another plot twist and dimension to the unfolding drama was well handled and I found myself reading far later into the night than I should have done to discover whodunit.

The denouement was also very skilfully handled – I’m not a fan of getting through a book where the tension is constantly being ratcheted up, only to have the whole thing suddenly descend into ridiculous unbelievability right at the end. And I’ve read more than my fair share of such nonsense, so I was delighted that the Castle absolutely nailed the ending, before I worked out whodunit, or why.

Highly recommended for fans of character-led, locked-room murder mysteries with plenty of tension and pace. While I obtained an arc of The Invitation from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10